Summer Reading: a few reviews

Summer holidays allows me time to relax and read. I have a few reading challenges from my GoodReads groups that I can get ahead on before I have to go back to work. A few of the books I have enjoyed reading are as follows:

Pick Your Poison (Ruby Redfort, #5)

Pick Your Poison by Lauren Child
This is another intriguing instalment to the light-hearted spy novels that make up the Ruby Redfort series. It can be read as a stand-alone as although, references previous stories, it fills in the gaps for the reader. (This may make these books less suspenseful if a reader wants to go back to read them for the first time.) The story this time picks up seven months after ruby has joined Spectrum. There are all the scrapes and capers you expect from Ruby. She remains rebellious and although has some risky run-ins with numerous villains, she is starting to consider the risks before she jumps in. Ruby remains troubled by the idea that there might be a mole in Spectrum and this storyline is developed further. Hitch has only a small part in this story and there is a lot more of best friend Clancy, who is becoming more resourceful.
There are again codes to crack and an explanation about them at the end of the book, this time they involve tesseracts and four-dimensional shapes being  coverted into 2D drawings.
The fifth Ruby Redfort book will not disappoint fans with plenty of mystery, suspense and humour and is a great novel for young readers.

The Spy of VeniceThe Spy of Venice by Benet Brandreth 

Fun to read. Is this really what Shakespeare was doing in his “lost years”?

The novel is a speculation about what Shakespeare might have done in the years where there is no historical record about him. It also seeks to explain why he knows so much about Italy.
The historical context is interesting. It is set in the time when protestant, Elizabethan England needed allies as she was up against a powerful Catholic Spain and the Pope.
William Shakespeare has to leave his home in Stratford and ends up with a troupe of itinerant actors in London. From here, he and the others in the troupe are mixed up with spies and intrigue, as they become part of a group who are sent to Venice. The city at this time was autonomous from Rome, centred on trade and very powerful in its own right. Elizabeth’s England needed all the support it could get from other protestant centres but negotiations were always delicate and Will and his fellow actors stumble about before they finally start to realise the stakes and actions that the powerful entities will take to make sure they achieve the best deal for themselves.

VoidVoid by David Staniforth
This is a mystery thriller that has an added layer with the psychological tension of the main protagonist (Tom) waking up in a freeing car with complete loss of memory. A journal, left in the car with him, slowly reveals some of his backstory to him and it explains that he, himself, wrote it. It pans out that, for one week each January, this exact same thing happens to him. The journal also reveals that the first twenty years of his life are a mystery. The journey that Tom takes to uncover who he is, what he has done and where he belongs forms the story. There is a fear of the unknown, combined with vague hints about some possible wrong-doing, that keeps the reader interested until the end.


Book Review: Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens

I had the chance to read a few novels over the past 2 weeks and especially enjoyed the newest addition to the Wells and Wong series. These books are a great read for girls who enjoy the crime genre with the added bonus of the Boarding house life (so no annoying adults to stifle the protagonists adventures.)

Jolly Foul Play (A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery, #4)Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another delightful tale about our two young detectives, Daisy and Hazel, who again have to deal with another murder in their school Deepdene, a year after their first investigation. This is the fourth book in the Wells and Wong series by Robin Stevens .
In this classic whodunit mystery set in the 1930’s, Elizabeth, a mean-spirited Head Girl has been found dead next to the bonfire on the fireworks night at Deepdean School for Girls. Although the teachers think that it was an accident, Daisy Wells and Heather Wong, aka The Detective Society, immediately see that it she was murdered and get on to the case.
This year’s Head Girl Elizabeth Hurst, who together with her team of prefects, the Big Girls, loved to terrorise the younger students, seemed to have been in possession of other students secrets and was especially fond of using them to leverage her power. After Elizabeth’s death, some may have felt safe but then the secrets of Deepdean start to surface, one at a time, written in pieces of paper and spread all around the grounds. The plot revolves around these secrets and the consequences that occur once they are revealed. Many friendships and loyalties are tested and Kitty, Beanie and Lavinia, the other girls from Daisy and Hazel’s dormitory, have bigger roles to play in solving the crime this time.
As usual the book is packed with red-herrings and suspicious behaviour. There were the twists and turns as the loyalties between the girls is tested. Silly small things blew up into major arguments and jealousies raged at times but the determination and spirit in this English boarding school overcame them in the end when the clues finally dropped into place and the danger was successfully alleviated.
This story was a good romp, complete with bun breaks, midnight feasts, gym-knickers, hockey sticks, and other “jolly japes”. The narrative has an excellent pace, likeable characters and seems right for the period, with several references to what is happening beyond the Deepdean world. Modern language is used with occasional period words, explained in the glossary at the end, thrown in for effect so younger readers can easily relate to the character and events.
There were occasionally references to previous adventures but nothing that gets in the way of the story for a new reader. Anything important from the past was explained as events unfolded in the story. A great addition to the series and the genre.

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Book Review: Alan Turing By Jim Eldridge

I have always had a fascination with code breaking and cyphers. I have also been fascinated by the history of Bletchley Park and knew about the life of Alan Turing , well before the movie The Imitation Game. I recently took the opportunity to visit The Bletchley Park Museum, which is still being developed. I  spent a full day enjoying the opportunities that this museum offers and is well worth a visit.

It was with this interest I read the book,  from the Real Lives series, by Jim Eldridge entitled simply Alan Turing. This series looks to offer a great reading option for a number of the boys I work with. They are very accessible stories about interesting real-life figures and written by a range of authors.

My GoodReads review:

Alan Turing (Real Lives)Alan Turing by Jim Eldridge    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jim Eldridge has written a short but interesting biography about Alan Turing, who has become more widely known since the movie “The Imitation Game”. I have enjoyed many books written by Jim Eldridge as he writes about historical people and events in a narrative form that makes history accessible to a broad audience.

Alan Turing was a remarkable man and nowadays is considered to be one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century and is widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. Jim Eldridge has written about Turing starting from his schooldays, through his time as a solitary undergraduate at Cambridge, his important and secret wartime work through to the moment of his untimely death from eating an apple laced with cyanide. (There is still debate about the circumstances of his death and quite a few theories about what actually happened.)

Alan Turing had a startling talent as a mathematician and was credited with shortening World War II by years, thanks to his work on the Enigma code. He was an awkward man who did not make friends easily and was gay in a time that made him a criminal and received punishment for it. Jim Eldridge includes it all in this book. He encourages the reader to consider all the factors to better understand the amazing life of Alan Turing, a true British hero.

This is part of a series (Real lives… ) of biographies written for younger readers and there is a broad range of people covered. All the books are short but offer enough information to satisfy young readers with accessible (but not simple) language. They are good books for boys who enjoy “real” stories and reluctant readers.

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Book Review: First Class Murder by Robin Stevens

Just finished the first week back after 5 weeks of long service leave. I took my kindle, loaded up with many novels and, as has happened before, some of the novels I took to read were set in areas I travelled through. I do not plan this but I suppose if I like English stories and I am lucky enough to spend it in the UK, it is bound to happen.

Whilst there I visited the several National Trust houses and gardens. I spent a week in the Torbay area, staying in Torquay. The weather was lovely and I was delighted to find I could take either a ferry or steam train to visit Greenway, the Georgian house and garden that was the holiday home of Agatha Christie. Many personal items and written reminiscences from family and friends make the visit worthwhile, especially if you are a Christie fan. There are many editions of her books and some of the estate has appeared in the Poirot television series.

There was also a connection with the latest Wells and Wong book.

First Class Murder (Wells and Wong, #3)First Class Murder by Robin Stevens My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third book in the Wells and Wong series. Robin Stevens has written another wonderful detective story for younger readers and paid tribute to the Queen of the crime novel, Agatha Christie. The setting for Daisy Well’s and Hazel Wong’s third mystery is on the Orient Express. The year is 1935 (only one year after the original ading | Tagged: book review, children’s_literature,publication date of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express”) and the details of the 1930’s train and the passengers seem very realistic. Hazel and Daisy have been taken on holiday by Hazel’s father, who has forbidden them to do any more detecting but once again the girls are caught up in a mystery.
In this story, just like the “Murder on the Orient Express”, the plot depends on one of the passengers on the train being the murderer and a detective on the train who will have to interview all the passengers to discover just who is telling the truth and who is lying.
There are some very questionable characters in the first class carriage with Hazel and Daisy as well as Hazel’s father, who is trying to keep a close watch on the two girls. However, with their usual determination they are soon on the case.
In another nod to Agatha Christie, one of our young detectives, Daisy, is actually reading a copy of “Murder on the Orient Express” in this story.
This is a mystery story, with spies, priceless jewels and a murder, that will keep young readers guessing until the “clever denouement”. I would recommend it to anyone who loves the challenge of unravelling a good mystery.
A list of the series on Robin Steven’s website
About the author: Robin Stevens

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Black Dog Gang: a story of Sydney life in 1900’s. Book review

We are always looking for books to engage our boys. The Premiers’ Reading Challenge is being promoted to classes this week,. It has been a good time for revisiting some of the literature we have added to our collection and promote books that appeal to our boys. Robert Newton‘s books Runner and The Black Dog Gang are two great Australian stories.

If you are interested there is a review here and some teaching notes from Penguin here

The Black Dog GangThe Black Dog Gang by Robert Newton My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fast paced and gritty historical novel set in Sydney in 1900. It is also a story about friendship, loyalty and the bonds that can form in harsh conditions. The world the boys in the book inhabit is full of poverty, dirt and hard-work. Frankie Maguire relates the story of his gang. There are 5 boys from shabby inner city Sydney who form a friendship and bond together. They experience bullying and violence and name their gang after a pirate from the “Treasure Island” story.
At this time Sydney is panicked by an outbreak of Bubonic Plague and there is a bounty of 6 pence on rats. The boys set about making money by finding and catching rats. They come up with an interesting money-making scheme along the way. The era has been well-researched and the characters are believable and likeable. There are wonderful descriptions of school and family life and a rather gross description of the rats eating cats (our boys rather like that). The dialogue is also rich with colloquial language and terms of the time.
This is an interesting story about a time in Australian history that most us know little about today.

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Book Review: Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Although looking after my niece and 2 little nephews for one week of my holidays, I have also enjoyed time to read. My niece also loves reading, especially mystery stories. I recently gave her 3 books in a series by Robin Stevens. (Murder Most Unladylike series aka Wells & Wong Mysteries). She has read all three and loved them. She gave them to me to read and I have recently finished the first one, Murder most unladylike,  and enjoyed it a lot. Below is my review for it

Murder Most Unladylike (Wells and Wong, #1)Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Murder Most Unladylike is a delightful read and it was very easy to suspend disbelief that school girls could investigate a murder, unfettered by any adult interventions in this very English boarding school crime setting.
The story is set in 1934 in a boarding school for girls called Deepdene. It combines the traditional detective novel, (think Sherlock Holmes) with a bit of the traditional girls-own boarding school drama. The story is narrated (Dr. Watson-style) by Hazel Wong, a student from Hong Kong, who, with best friend Daisy Wells (the self-cast Sherlock Holmes of the duo), make up a secret detective agency that in the past had only very mundane cases to investigate.
The adventure begins when Hazel finds the body of their Science Mistress, Miss Bell, in the gym. Hazel runs for help but when she returns with Daisy a few minutes later, the body has disappeared. The official from the School Headmistress is that Miss Bell is simply gone, resigned. The rumour is that it is due to a broken heart after a failed romance with the new music teacher, Mr Reid. Hazel and Daisy know better and set out to first prove that a murder actually happened and then find the culprit.
Whilst the skilfully plotted murder mystery in Murder Most Unladylike is the central thread there are also many other incidental elements that provide an interesting picture that encompasses not only the actual mystery but also the difficulties the two main characters have in maintainin their’ friendship as well as wider social mores of the time about gender, class and race.
Although she has been schooled by her father, who is clearly a fan of all things Anglophile, Hazel has had to learn to fit in and deal with the casual racism and small slights from her classmates. Also, given the historical context of the novel, the classes that are considered necessary, sort of good behaviour that is expected of the girls and how intelligent and smart they are allowed to be. Daisy and Hazel’s characters both play down their intelligence in class and deportment is a timetabled class.
This story has plenty of charm. It is funny and clever, and as with all good classic detective stories, the two heroines complement each other perfectly.
The author Robin Stevens has captured the feel of all of the classic mystery stories that I enjoyed when I was a child. It should have great appeal for many middle-school kids today. I spent 12 months in a boarding school and, although it was not English and 50 years later than the timeframe here, there is a ring of authenticity to the lives documented in the story. There is a language that goes with boarding schools and for this reason there is a glossary at the end that explains all the 1930s boarding school slang.

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Review: Night Break (Young Sherlock Holmes #8)

Our book/reading group has been reading and reviewing quite a few books this term. This is one of mine.

This is the eighth book in the Young Sherlock Holmes series. As with the other stories in this series the period detail is well-researched and convincing, the characters are engaging and the plotting is excellent.

Night Break (Young Sherlock Holmes, #8)

Night Break by Andrew Lane

In this story the Holmes brothers, Sherlock and  Mycroft, are called back to their family home for the funeral of their mother. They begin to prepare for her funeral and sort through what needs to be done as well as trying to decide how best to support their sister, Emma.
They are all dealing with a sense of loss so when Emma claims that faceless men are visiting the house Sherlock doesn’t believe her. However Sherlock investigates and discovers that three men in bizarre disguises have broken into the house in the middle of the night. When Sherlock finds them he is viciously attacked. The family seems to be caught up in some strange mystery that they have no understanding or knowledge of.
The next occurrence involves men, posing as builders, attacking their sister’s fiancé. Both Mycroft and Sherlock independently deduce that the mystery is somehow connected to the building of the Suez Canal. The paths they then follow turn out to be very different, as Sherlock, with his ever loyal friend Matty, setting out for Egypt, determined to discover just what is going on. He feels betrayed by his brother and follows his own instincts to get to the bottom of what is going on. The nature of loyalties and friendship is called into question before the book is finished.

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Made a few years ago, the trailer below is a good introduction to the series and should whet the appetite of all young crime and detective fiction readers